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Castle Thorn Software / Nexeon Technologies | Official Site
MMORPG | Genre:Sci-Fi | Status:Final  (rel 09/21/07)  | Pub:Castle Thorn Software / Nexeon Technologies
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StarQuest Online: Player Crews and Interview

MMORPG.com StarQuest Online Correspondent Allen Richardson recently spoke with the developers of StarQuest Online, asking them about the game's graphics, gameplay elements and more.

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Amid a flurry of almost non-existent hype, StarQuest Online launched on September 21, 2007. People had never heard of it, and comments of "This looks like something I could play on my Armstrad 464" were rampant. No one had ever heard of CastleThorn Software. Now, almost a year and four months later, the game is pretty much in the same boat. The graphics have improved drastically, but are still not DX10 material or even close. So what does the game have fully in its favor.

Player crews are something that is scarce in MMOs, and it’s not looking like that’s going to change. I have played SQO for over two years, plenty of time to see the good and the bad of the issue. It has been mentioned that not all players like grouping. SQO does not force you to have a bunch of players on a ship to run it. You can run a ship solo. Others were worried about their tactical officer running off to get a drink during a firefight leaving them high and dry. The answer here is in the class system. Or rather, the lack of it. In SQO, your skills determine your class. Your class does not determine your skills. If your tactical officer stops responding, order someone else there or go do it yourself. SQO's player crews work because the players are not forced to use them. Some others are worried about what would you do while your station was not in use? Say you’re docked at a station, what is there for the helm officer to do? Actually, there is no problem here since the SQO devs didn't take any shortcuts. The ships are fully explorable, you can go to any nook and cranny in them you want to. Anything you can do on a planet, you can do on a ship, not counting harvesting resources. There are things the ships have that even planets do not, such as science labs where you can make chemicals that were never seen before in-game. That said, if you are in an active environment, there is very little time when you are just waiting. Hyperspace is something else entirely, and you most likely will be inactive, but there is no need to be manning the stations in hyperspace. Go have a ball doing something like playing tag with disrupters.

I got a chance to talk to two of the developers, team leader Bardon Thorn and software programmer Durango Montana. While this is not a official interview by mmorpg.com, I tried to ask questions about things people are interested in. Maybe next time we can get someone higher up on the payscale to ask the questions.

AR:

Player crews has been considered a shaky proposition at best in space MMO's, why did CTS decide to use this mechanic?

Durango Montana:

At the time we started this project, no one had done anything besides the "play as a ship" concept. I don't think there's anything "shaky" about the concept. The only people who are saying that it is are those making excuses for those who are taking the easy way out. Think about it, with a non-player crew approach they don't have to model much of anything for ship interiors, besides maybe key areas like the bridge. Building every deck of every starship is a huge amount of work they don't have to do before they release their game. And yes, that is the real reason, despite any other comments they have floated to the contrary.

AR:

Have you ever had thoughts of taking player crews out of the game to make it more playable for the casual players?

Durango Montana:

No, that will not happen. The second "M" in MMORPG stands for multi-player.

AR:

You don't seem to be advertising the game, beyond my writing there seems to be very little about StarQuest on the internet. From what I have seen on the forums, this game has a lot of potential, and you are planning a lot of great additions to the game. Wouldn't you have a bigger playerbase if you hyped those additions more?

Durango Montana:

There are two reasons for this: 1, money and 2, money. In actuality, we have tried this a few times. At the level we've been able to do it, it is simply not cost effective to spend $100 to get a single $9.99 subscriber. That's how the math has worked out.

AR:

While I have been able to successfully play solo, it isn't as "fast paced" as it would be if I joined Fleet or another group. Is there any plans to expand the solo side of the game? There is bounty hunting in-game right now, but it seems kind of lacking compared to the rest of the game.

Durango Montana:

We're always ready to make improvements to make things more fun and interesting for everyone, but remember the second "M."

AR:

You mentioned that you plan on making other races playable. As much as I enjoy being one of the 3 upstanding races of the United Systems Alliance, I'm one of those used to playing one of the "bad" races. Any update on those other races being made available to players?

Durango Montana:

The Klinshayan race will be in general release very soon. That's all I can say right now.

AR:

Is there anything different about the Klinshayans other than their color? What would make them more appealing to play?

Bardon Thorn:

Klinshaya have a completely different back story and goals than the mainstream Alliance players, and are less technologically advanced. Therefore it is more of a challenge to succeed in the Klinshaya Empire than it is in the Alliance. There are no civilians in the Klinshayan faction, so I guess you could say the Klinshaya are more "group focused".

AR:

StarQuest is pretty much PvP only right now, with a little PvP&E. While this is great for a PvP nerd like me, PvP only is a little hard on the semi-casual players. Are admins planning on adding PvE of some type?"

Bardon Thorn:

We have some PVE already, and we intend to keep adding more and more. However, as Durango said, this is a multiplayer game, and PVP will remain a strong focus.

AR:

Everything in StarQuest is player owned, but the player market is hard to use, almost non-existent. Is there something being done about this?

Bardon Thorn:

A new market system is under development to address this concern, making it both easier for players to use and giving players new avenues of play to explore.

AR:

Player owned colonies in sci-fi are as new as player owned cities are in ground-based games. Right now its pretty much just dropping a charter, adding all the resources and orbitals, and watching it grow. Is there any plans in expanding this? The game is huge right now, but I could see people in the future playing the civilian side just for colonies. I guess I'm almost looking for a "Civ 4" in space.

Bardon Thorn:

Yes, there are a number of plans in the works for expanding colonies: scientific research, relocating or transferring of colonists, conquest or liberation of colonies, rebellions, and a few other things. Allen: The number of ship types is much smaller than those of other games. Same with ship customization, every Fleet ship has blue carpet.

AR:

Any plans to expand in this area?

Bardon Thorn:

We have already allowed players to upload textures for some items such as signs and artwork, changing the appearance of starships would require something similar. This is something that may happen down the road if some technical issues can be resolved.

AR:

The graphics of StarQuest are not close to what most MMOs are coming out with, Age of Conan for example. I think most people take one look and never try SQO. What was the thinking behind not making the game with a more advanced graphics engine?

Bardon Thorn:

There is nothing 'simple' about our graphics engine, it does things no other MMO has ever attempted to do, such as make it possible to see your character sitting in a shuttlecraft, inside the hangar of another ship, while scanning the surface of a planet and monitoring the activities of another player on that planet.

Are other games more detailed in their worlds? Yes, but none of them are comparable to the size of the UNIVERSE SQO depicts.

AR:

For my last question, what made a group of programmers try to start a MMO project of this size? I mean, nothing this scale has ever been completed that I can see.

Bardon Thorn:

Because we're all crazy ! Seriously though, this is the game we always wanted to play. Since it didn't exist, we decided to make it ourselves.

From where I stand, the game looks as good as it needs to. The playbase is growing larger by the day, it only seems empty because it is so huge. You can have 1,000 players online and not know it due to them being spread out over large distances. The in-game chat is rarely used, but serviceable. The game is mechanically sound, it has technology that would make mosts jaws drop in awe. 64-bit was already supported before we even had a mainstream 64 bit processor. Where it lacks in graphics, it makes up in roleplay. No instances, or limits, the game is open sandbox. It may not be the game of your dreams now, but keep a eye on it. Given its progress in the last year, nothing will compare within the next.

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